Ghana's President Atta Mills Dies at 68

Reports say that John Atta Mills may have suffered from throat cancer before his death.

Posted: 07/24/2012 01:02 PM EDT
John Atta Mills

Ghanaian President John Atta Mills died Tuesday, just days after his 68th birthday and five months before the end of his first term in office.

A televised address from Chief of Staff John Henry Martey Newman broke the news to shocked Ghanaians that Atta Mills passed away Tuesday afternoon at the 37th Military Hospital in Accra, shortly after falling ill.

Atta Mills was rumored to be struggling with throat cancer, although the official government statement announcing his death did not mention the condition. According to reports, Mills recently returned from the U.S. where he allegedly sought medical treatment for the condition, and other accounts say his voice deteriorated significantly in recent months.

Although Atta Mills’ death came as a surprise to many, government officials executed a smooth transition of power in the wake of the announcement. Just hours after the nation learned of Atta Mills’ death, Vice President John Mahama, 53, was sworn in as the country's interim leader. He will serve as president until elections are held at the end of this year.

Atta Mills and Mahama, members of the National Democratic Congress, won their seats in office by extremely close margin in the 2009 presidential elections. Atta Mills’ two years in office were marked by both immense praise for the country’s economic growth, but also extreme criticism from many who felt that Ghana’s unemployment and poverty issues only increased during his tenure.

President Obama reflected on the untimely passing of Atta Mills, “Under his leadership, the United States and Ghana deepened our partnership in the promotion of good governance and economic development. He was also a strong advocate for human rights and for the fair treatment of all Ghanaians. On behalf of the American people, I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the people of Ghana, and reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between our democracies that President Mills helped to strengthen.”

Before taking office, Atta Mills worked as a law professor and a tax expert holding teaching posts at the University of Ghana, Temple University in Pennsylvania and Leiden University in the Netherlands. He then served as vice president of Ghana from 1997 to 2000. He is the first Ghanaian president to die in office.

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(Photo: EPA/ANDREW GOMBERT /LANDOV)

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